Introductory Sales Letters
How to write introductory sales letters for sales enquiries, appointments, and submissions of inventions, patents and ideas
Here are samples and templates of sales introduction letters. These examples of sales letters help make a professional impression, and begin the sales cycle. Introductory letters certainly help to make appointments and the cold calling process. In many cases they are essential prior to attempting telephone contact with senior people. Introductory letters are particularly helpful for starting the sales cycle with large organisations.
Here also are tips and letters for submission of inventions, patents and new product ideas to potential licensee companies, which is in effect another type of introductory sales letter: you are selling yourself and your invention.
Please note that the spellings used in this guide and the letters samples are based on UK English common form, for example, 'recognise', 'organise', 'specialise', whereas US English favours the 'ize' spelling. For these and any other spellings subject to regional variation, change the spelling to suit your situation. Address 'postcode', where referred to here is the UK term; it best equates to the US zipcode, or respective 'zip'-type postal codes used in other countries.
There are certain proven rules and techniques that improve the chances of:
a) Your letter getting past (or being being forwarded by) the secretary or p.a. to your intended contact, and
b) Your intended contact being interested in seeing you.
Think how you treat unsolicited letters that you receive. Most of these letters go in the bin, and many letters won't even be opened. A few seconds is all anyone takes to decide whether to read a letter or discard it. A secretary or p.a. will open your letter, and they too will decide in just a few seconds whether to read on, then whether to pass it to your intended contact, another person, or to file it or bin it.
Increasingly these days it's good to aim first for a telephone appointment - a qualifying discussion when you can ask helpful questions and seek to understand the client's situation - before expecting to agree a face-to-face meeting. You can do a lot on the phone. Having a telephone appointment in your mind as an initial aim often makes it easier to get the ball rolling. It also shows that you have a professional appreciation of the value of people's time.
Remember that your letter will be competing with perhaps ten, twenty, or even fifty sales letters received every day, sent by sales-people people hoping to gain your target's attention. To get through, your sales letter needs to be good, different, professional and relevant.
Use the five-second rule when designing direct sales letters opening statements and headlines. You must grab attention in five seconds; that's about ten words comfortably; fifteen to twenty words at most. This implies a headline, which is why headlines are often used. If you prefer not to use a headline, fine, but still you need to grab attention in your opening paragraph in five seconds.
The time available for grabbing attention and conveying meaning is shrinking all the time. People used to talk in terms of 4-8 seconds to grab attention. Now it's best to work on less than five seconds. This is because progressively we can all absorb information and ideas far more quickly than we used to. Our environments condition and 'train' our brains to do this. Think about TV adverts, video games, chatrooms, email and text messages, fast-moving media and entertainment generally - it's all getting quicker - we get bored sooner, and we need data quicker. Your contacts are just the same. Quick-thinking senior decision-makers especially: they need your letters to help them absorb and understand data as quickly as possible. If it takes too long they won't bother. Efficient and effective letters not only get read and get your points across, they also say something about you - that you are efficient and effective too.
So you need to be very efficient and thoughtful in your use of language and words. Every word must be working for you; if it's not, remove it or find another.
Think about the language that your intended contact uses - for example, what newspaper are they are likely to read - this is your vocabulary guide.
Think about the business vocabulary too; senior decision-makers and company directors are concerned mainly with making money and saving money. Read the financial pages of the broadsheets - look at the words that people use - and start using these words too.
A significant stage in succeeding with introductory sales letters is the one that is protected by the decision-maker's secretary or p.a. The secretary or p.a.'s responsibility is to protect the boss's time. For a letter to stand a chance of being passed on to your target by the secretary it needs to be:
- Commercially/financially/operationally very serious and significant
- Interesting and potentially beneficial
- Of a nature that only your targeted person can deal with it
- Extremely professional
- Grammatically perfect
The letter structure should also follow the AIDA format (it's as old as the hills but it's still crucial):
- Attention (I want to read on)
- Interest (this is relevant to me and my company)
- Desire (this is potentially beneficial and I want to pursue this opportunity)
- Action (when I'm called I'll talk/make an appointment/delegate action)
Obviously make sure you use the person's correct title (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, etc) and properly spelled surname in the address (initials are considered by some to be more professional and polite than using first names). Include letters after their name if known, eg., OBE, or professional qualifications abbreviations; also ensure correct job title, company name, address, postcode and date. If you are laying out a letter or a mail-merge for window envelope remember that this requires precise address positioning.
Keep the sentences short.
Introductory letters must be able to be read and understood in under 30 seconds - less than 20 seconds even better - so your letter will never require more than one side of paper. The less words the better. Generally three short paragraphs of 'body-copy' suffice. It's doubtful you'd achieve what you need to in just two; four or five are okay if they're very brief; any more is much too much. Use bullet points if you have a number of short points to make.
Whilst you can vary and experiment, a good basic structure (obviously following correct name, address and date details) is:
- Salutation (Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms surname, or Dear Sir/Madam for extra caution)
- Headline or 'banner statement' (optional)
- Credibility and relevance statement (mandatory) - you must establish your credentials and explain your relevant capability or proposition - clever wording here enables you to wrap the two - credibility and a relevant proposition - into a single statement or paragraph
- How and why statement (optional) - what re the special characteristics of your capability or proposition
- Suggestion of similar opportunity/application for target organisation (optional but useful normally)
- Action/follow up statement (mandatory) - what happens next - explain
- P.S. statement (optional - can work well in certain situations - generally avoid using it for senior approaches because it will be seen as gimmicky)
The safest way to discover the correct contact details is to telephone the secretary or p.a. Say that you'll be writing, and ask to confirm precise address, name and title details etc. The old convention was to use Sir or Madam if you'd not spoken to the person before, but nowadays it's reasonably safe to use Mr/Mrs/Ms (surname).
If you use a headline or 'banner statement' it must be concise, relevant, impactful, professional, unique, new. Maximum 15-20 words. Generally avoid 'clever' glib ad-type slogans. Avoid upper case (capitals) lettering - word-shapes are lost when upper case is used. (People read by recognising word-shapes not individual letters, so don't use upper case anywhere, as it takes longer to read and reduces impact.) Avoid italics, coloured backgrounds and coloured text too - they all reduce readability and impact. Headline should be between two-thirds and three-quarters up the page - where the eye-line is naturally first attracted. Often it's easier to decide on your headline after you've written the rest of the letter. The headline is extremely important - take time to refine it into a really powerful and meaningful statement (or question).
Refer to significant and beneficial activities of your company in areas/sectors/industries relevant to the target's business. Technical and complex words help, provided they are relevant and that your target recipient will understand them. Using technical words that are relevant and recognisable to your contact will help to convey that you understand the issues and details from their perspective. Use 'director-speak' - words and phrases that directors use and relate to. Given that most introductory letters avoid mentioning prices many decision-makers find it refreshingly 'up front' and honest - no nonsense - to see clear early indication of financials - if only as a guide. Logically it helps to relate prices or costs to expected returns. Remember that most decision-makers in organisations are fundamentally driven by return on investment. There can be risks in using direct references to the target's competitors, so be careful - it's more acceptable in aggressively competitive markets - less so in more conservative sectors. Use references that you believe are likely to be the most unique and beneficial and relevant, (which is why doing some initial research is useful). Focus on a single theme and result - do not try to list lots of benefits. As a general rule, be specific but not detailed, and be broad but not vague. Ensure your proposition has the WIIFM factor - 'What's in it for me?' - your contact must feel that it's worth his or her time in pursuing some interest or accepting your call.
If you need to explain how the benefits are derived then do so. Keep it general, concise, significant, serious and brief. This is a good place to imply or suggest the uniqueness of your capability. It is useful to suggest or state that your company is 'the only' company able to do whatever you are claiming. Uniqueness is very helpful.
Suggest that similar opportunities or possibilities might or may exist for the target organisation. Don't sell, claim or guarantee to be able to do anything. Understatement is a very useful style. How can you possibly know for sure until you've understood the client's situation?
What you will do next - normally that you'll telephone soon/shortly/in due course. Avoid stating a date and time that you'll phone back - it's presumptuous - how do you know your target person will be available then? (In practice if your target is interested in pursuing the issue opportunity then he or she will normally ask the secretary to deal with the arrangements for the next action, and you may not actually need to speak to your target person on the telephone - secretaries and p.a.'s are powerful people.)
Stick to tradition to be safe: use Yours sincerely if you've started with a Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms (name), and Yours faithfully (if you've started with Dear Sir or Madam).
If it fits with the tone and style of the communication, a good 'P.S.', used effectively and appropriately, can be a useful way to attract more attention and to add an additional point, especially one of special interest to the prospect, for instance that you will be in their area during a week or month, or a special offer, or the availability of extra pre-sales information at a website, etc. Avoid using this for senior contacts because it can be seen as gimmicky, and generally if in doubt don't use it. A good letter won't need it.
This sample letter is very brief and concise. It begins with a credibility statement, which infers the method and basic proposition. It then presents a financial case - invest 'x' to get 'y'. Senior decision-makers are primarily concerned with return on investment and will need to see some data that helps them assess this. The letter then explains briefly in bullet points what the method comprises. And then there's the action point.
Many experts in advertising and communications believe that adding a 'P.S.' greatly increases success rates. Use the technique with care: ensure that you use a 'P.S.' statement that is appropriate to the context or it could appear irritating or insulting.
The sample sales introductory letter below features a real product called the Sales Activator®. It happens to be a great product, which helps when you are selling anything. If you are finding it difficult to put together a great sales introductory letter you might find that your product proposition needs revisiting first.
(Company name, address, date and your reference)
Dear Mr Smith
New Flash Bang Wallop (whatever) System/Solution/Concept
Flash Bang Wallop is according to (state quotable reputable endorsee) the best new (whatever) for the (state relevant application/territory/time).
(Or substitute some other bold statement of quality/effectiveness which can be supported with a reputable endorsee/user).
Leading companies such as (state quotable endorsees/users) now use Flash Bang Wallop, because they've achieved improvements of (state factual range) and/or savings of (state factual range).
For a cost equating to (show cost as per day, per user, and/or per team, etc) your staff/customers will (state key unique benefit).
The remarkable Flash Bang Wallop uses (briefly, method/difference/special quality) to:
- significant specific relevant outcome - 1
- significant specific relevant outcome - 2
- significant specific relevant outcome - 3
- significant specific relevant outcome - 4
- significant specific relevant outcome - 5
To test Flash Bang Wallop's effectiveness in your organisation, you can arrange a free no-obligation trial now.
I'll call you soon, or please feel free to contact me to arrange it.
(Signature, name, title.)
P.S. You can see more details about Flash Bang Wallop in the (case study example reference details - ideally a website link).
These are the important characteristics of good introductory sales letters:
- 'Less is more' - the quicker you can get your point across the better - efficient writing suggests efficient service
- A single specific impressive (ideally unique or very special) proposition works better than trying to offer many things
- The visual presentation, font (typeface), and language must be very easy to read
- Write in the 2nd person (use 'you', 'yours' etc)
- New and unique are more eye-catching than something that is no different to what others offer
- The proposition must be credible and believable
- The style and tone of the letter must appeal to the style and tone of the reader (think whom you're writing for and write accordingly)
Avoid being clever or funny. Avoid posing puzzles - people cannot be bothered to waste their time and they'll feel insulted.
Headlines need to grab attention in a relevant and meaningful way.
The letter as a whole must aim make the reader think "Yes, that's of interest to me, and I like the style of the letter. I can imagine at least talking to this person without feeling I'm just another prospect..."
Avoid the use of 'I', 'we', 'us', 'ours', except for the obvious (eg 'I will telephone you…'). Talk about your intended customer and their market, not your own business.
Don't include leaflets or brochures to directors.
Try to engage the help and advice of the secretary or p.a. - get her on your side. Your chances of the contact seeing the letter increase significantly if you can engage with the intended contact's secretary or p.a. and explain in advance that you are writing.
Always remember that you are trying to sell the appointment not the product.
Try selling telephone appointments before you try to get a face-to-face meeting. You can achieve a lot on the phone - especially rapport-building, and understanding their issues and needs - people respond well because it shows you respect their time, and your own.
Above all, JFDI (see acronyms). Write some letters, follow them up, and you will get appointments.
Here is a very simple general sales introduction letter - you can use this or adapt it for most situations as it is very general. This type of introductory letter is ideal for new sales situations when you need to generate some sales leads and enquiries before you know your products and markets in great detail, and need to get something moving. This type of letter must be followed up by a phone call - it will not generate a response on its own. Preferably research your prospects first to understand something about them, and especially to find the name and address details for the relevant decision-maker.
This type of letter is low-pressure - it seeks to establish a connection and offer discussion if timely and appropriate for the client.
name and address
Dear (Mr/Mrs, etc, name)
attention grabbing heading (up to 10 words)
(the heading must grab attention - something your prospect will relate to that your proposition will produce - for example, Cost-Effective Sales Enquiry Generation, or Reduce Your Staffing Overheads, or Fast-Track Management Training)
When you next consider your arrangements for (product/service) I would welcome the opportunity to understand your requirements and situation.
(Optional) Our customers include (two or three examples, relevant and known to the prospect), who have found (state key benefit, % savings, strategic advantage) from working with us.
I will telephone you soon to agree a future contact time that suits you/your own review timescale.
(Name and signature)
(Optional 'P.S.' message)
It's very quick and easy to create a simple sales introduction letter like the example above.
Many sales people fail to send anything at all because they take too long creating the letter and organizing the mail-merge, etc. If you find yourself falling into this trap remember JFDI - get on and do it.
Then get on the phone and follow it up.
Sending a simple professional sales introduction letter overcomes the initial obstacle that most organizations use as a defence against sales introductions. A good simple introductory letter can also establish a level of credibility and professionalism in the mind of the contact and his or her p.a., who is likely to be the person who reads and deals with the letter first.
Submitting inventions, patents and new product or service ideas, or new business propositions, to potential licensee companies or partners is a complex area as regards patents and intellectual property (if applicable), but in all other respects is quite simple. It's just a form of selling. You are selling your idea and yourself.
If your proposal or idea concerns a new invention, then your approach will be influenced by your country or regional laws as to how best to protect and register your intellectual property. In the case of inventions, do not leap in and apply for a patent without first reading and taking advice on the best approach for your own situation. Patents are expensive, and moreover they will reveal your ideas when published, which might not be desirable if your idea is still under development, or you are unsure of your aims and strategy.
It is important that you research the existing market for similar ideas. Many inventors assume they have come up with an original idea, spend lots of time and money on it, only to find that the idea isn't new or advantageous to the market.
Be careful whom you expose your ideas to. Telling people about your ideas without the protection of non-disclosure and secrecy agreements effectively puts your ideas into the public domain and will commonly make it impossible to successfully apply later for a patent. Telling people will also risk your idea coming into the hands of people who will use it as their own.
Be careful if you engage one of the many inventors 'agencies'. Some of these are parasitic organisations who will charge you a fee for basically doing what you could have done yourself if you just read and learn for yourself. Some are worse and exploit inventors for extortionate fees, irrespective of whether the inventions have a real chance in the market-place. So before engaging an agency of this type, clearly and firmly clarify what they will do for you, and check a few references from among their existing inventor customers.
Avoid incurring legal costs until you are sure that such services and costs are necessary, and assess this requirement for yourself. If you ask a patent lawyer you can predict what the answer will be... And they'll say you need a lawyer not because they are deliberately exploiting you, it will be because their approach is to err on the side of caution, in the face of everything and anything that could go wrong.
At some stage you may well need a lawyer to help with patents and intellectual property - certainly you will if your venture comes to life and offers a reasonable scale - but wait until you need one before incurring these costs.
At some stage as well you will need to consider product liability. It is likely that any licensee or partner will want to hold you responsible for ultimate liability for product safety, and although this is commonly negotiable, you need to be aware of the issue at the outset. At some point you must ensure suitable insurance is put in place for your own protection in this area.
As regards selling your idea, it is essential that you look at and judge your invention or proposal from a marketing and commercial standpoint. Your own subjective personal opinion, or your mum's or friends' views, are irrelevant. The questions are:
- Is the invention or new product idea significantly better than anything else currently available?
- Has anyone else thought of it yet?
- Is there a market for it?
- If so how big is the market and what is the customer profile?
- Can the invention or idea be distributed via existing or easily established channels?
- Can it be developed and manufactured for a cost that will allow a supplier to make a profit on it?
- Have you taken into account the costs of design development, production development, tooling, origination, packaging, advertising and promotion, sales and distribution, training, wastage, returns, servicing, replacement, environmental and health and safety implications, corporate social responsibility, and recovery of other business overheads?
- Does the profit per item, after all these costs, multiplied by the realistic volumes (bearing in mind usual market inertia and resistance to new ideas, and competition alternatives), equate to a financial gain that is big enough to make a significant difference to the profit of the sort of companies you are approaching?
- If so what is the pay-back timescale, and what is the return on investment for the licensee?
- Is the return on investment from your invention better than the ROI from other new product or market development options available to your potential licensees?
- Will the invention or new product idea fit with the style, quality, processes, aspirations, etc., of the sort of companies you are approaching?
- Can you demonstrate all of these factors to a potential licensee, in a clear, professional presentation lasting no longer than 30 minutes?
When and if you are able to answer these questions positively, then you can feel justified in approaching potential licensees or distribution partners. The fewer of these questions that you can answer positively, then the less likely you will be to succeed.
Your plans are likely to encounter some chicken-and-egg dilemmas, for example - how do you gauge market reaction if you cannot expose the concept?; and how do you calculate return on investment if you don't know the details of the potential licensee's costs of manufacturing and overheads?
In short you need to be pragmatic and adaptable, develop rough estimates to more precise data as and when you are able. Your entire proposition is a rough concept to begin with, in all respects. You must mould it into shape over time. Tighten up the facts and figures as you go along. That's why even very big corporations use the expressions 'cigarette packet' or 'table napkin' when describing early stage new concepts and ideas. Not much is known, but critically the rough estimates stack up into a good-looking business case. You must be sure your idea does too.
When you are ready to approach potential licensees make sure you research the organisations and their markets first. It's easy to do this on the web. Phone the companies also for their brochures, and annual reports if available. This will help you to build a picture of how they operate and what they need.
Understand the market, the suppliers, the distribution, the market leaders, and their competitive strengths. Select your potential partners carefully. Perhaps complete a SWOT analysis for each. Importantly, understand the basic financials - their turnover, volumes, market shares, typical profit margins - especially gross margins (before operating overheads) - as this helps you compare and assess the gross margins offered by your invention or idea.
And then aim to get meeting with them.
Definitely resist explaining your ideas by post or email. You should ideally seek an opportunity to present your invention or idea in person, together with all the supporting business case justification that surrounds it - this is what sells the idea. An idea with a strong business case is far more likely to be considered.
When you try to arrange your meeting I would not recommend that you write first. Phone first. Phone each company (somebody at head office in the commercial or marketing department is a reasonable start point - if in doubt start with the p.a. to the divisional CEO or general manager) and find out reliably and exactly each of their preferred processes for the submission of outside inventions or new business ideas. Who are their people who are responsible for assessing new ideas from outside partners? And then follow their process. It will be different for each company, and will therefore require a different letter for each.
I'd add the following points:
Expect to be asked or better still offer to sign/provide a mutual non-disclosure agreement. You need this for your own protection, especially if you have not yet applied for a patent. Also, potential licensees - especially big corporations - are commonly concerned that outside inventors' ideas could coincide with their own NPD (new product development), which would create a potential vulnerability for the corporation if the outside inventor is able to claim after a disclosure that they (the inventor) own the idea. For this reason big corporations have rigorous submission processes which can be off-putting. It's a matter of working with their processes and policies.
To approach smaller companies - say below £200m/$300m size - I suggest you phone the p.a. to the CEO and ask her/his advice how to submit or make your approach.
If they don't have a non-disclosure agreement then you should provide one.
When you know what sort of letter to write, keep the letter short, and generally try to follow the principles outlined in the guidelines above for other introductory sales letters. The same principles apply - you are selling yourself and your idea - but first you need to sell the appointment.
Letters of this sort really need simply to say that your invention is in the area of (product/service sector), and the market advantages and financial returns will accrue to the licensee. Do not explain what the invention is in writing until you have exchanged NDA's (non-disclosure agreements), and ideally you should wait to explain/present your invention, and the make-up of your team, in person at a meeting. I say 'your team' because the potential licensee will be interested in the people who constitute your company or group (and they will certainly need at some stage to satisfy themselves that you have suitable integrity, reliability, back-up, etc). The potential licensee will be as concerned about you as they are concerned about the idea.
Many corporations already have an established inventor community - these will be trusted people and companies - your challenge is to become one of these, or at least to meet the qualifying criteria (which will certainly require you to possess some commercial and market awareness, integrity, as well as technical and creative capability - so work on attaining these attributes).
Below is a basic template and sample letter for submitting a new idea, invention, or business proposition. Adapt it according to the process that potential licensee or partner company tells you to follow, (in other words the information they need, in order to meet with you).
As a final point - resist being bullied by potential licensee companies or potential partners. Do not provide details of your idea until and unless you are happy with the intentions, integrity, and authority of the other party. There will be some corporate marketing executives, product managers, and technical managers who will want to discover your ideas, but will have no intention (or authority) to do anything with them. This is another reason for starting at the top - with the CEO's p.a. - to learn and make use of the organisation's official procedure for the submission of outside ideas and inventions.
Adapt this sample letter - use it as a template guide - to suit your own situation.
Dear Mr Smith
(use a title that will mean something to the reader, for example: 'unique new product for child education market', or exciting new business proposition for sales training sector', or 'innovative new product for the automotive security sector')
Further to out telephone conversation on (date) here is an outline of our proposal.
I am (brief credibility statement - for example: 'I am an expert in the field of [discipline/technology/market, etc], qualified to [qualifications], with [experience]' or 'I own and run the [name] product development company, which specialises in [market/technology] and is (accreditations/quality standards/previous achievements]')
We have developed a highly innovative product/solution for the (describe market) sector. Our research indicates that our formula/invention/technology is unique and will offer significant advantage over all available similar and competing products/services. We can prove/show/demonstrate design, development, production, and distribution viability, a likely unit cost of £/$(cost)/gross margin in excess of X%, and realisable sales volumes of Y,000/million units over N years. We estimate that the investment required for design and development necessary for launch would be in the region of £/$(cost).
Our idea will deliver the following customer benefits: (list 3-5 points - do not give away invention or idea secrets - focus on what it does that other products cannot, not how it does it) for example -
- can be used under water
- meets safety standards for pre-school market
- battery life of five years
We believe that this new product could fit well within the (prospect organisation name) portfolio, given your market strengths, values and customer base, and so we would like to present our ideas to you and your appropriate team.
If you'd like to proceed to the next stage we would expect to sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement, and await your advice on this.
I'll call you soon to see if you wish to progress matters. Or please contact me.
Yours sincerely, etc.
(Signature and name)
P.S. You can see more details about us/our company at our website www.your_own_website_name.com.
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